Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Nicaraguan Treats

One of the things I love about Nicaragua is that there are all kinds of treats you can buy super cheap as a snack. People prepare them and walk around the streets shouting out what they have on a daily basis. A lot of the women balance large plastic buckets full of their goods on their heads, and I’m always amazed that they don’t drop everything since it’s balanced there on a rolled up towel and not strapped down or anything!
A lot of the treats you can get are cold, which is definitely a welcome break from the heat. 

One of the most popular is called “raspado”, and is shaved ice with flavoring on it – most often either dulce de leche or a fruity flavor. The raspado vendor has a brightly painted cart with huge hunks of ice inside, a scraper, and the flavorings in glass bottles on the top of the cart. They push the cart around ringing a bell, and at certain times of the day, people flock around the cart for their treat. Here are some pictures of my most recent raspado experience:

 Step 1: Scraping the ice with a special tool that collects it so he can put it in a bowl.
 Step 2: Pouring on flavoring. This one already has dulce de lecha, and he's adding a fruit flavoring - "combinado" because it has two flavors
Gabriela enjoying her raspado, or as she says, "zaspado" because she can't quite pronounce the rolled r yet!

Another cold, refreshing treat is called posicle and is pretty much ice cream in a bag. A lot of drinks and little treats here come in plastic bags, and to eat it, you bite of the corner and drink or suck your treat through the hole. I’ve only had posicle once, but it was absolutely delicious and so refreshing! The one we had was chocolate flavored, and I actually don’t know if it comes in other flavors...I will have to investigate that! The one downside to having the ice cream in a bag is that your hand pretty much freezes off as you are eating, and you have to juggle your treat back and forth as each hand thaws enough to endure a bit more freezing. It’s SO worth it.

Fresco is probably the most popular cool drink (other than Coca Cola…), and it’s so refreshing (I feel like a broken record, but it’s so true!). Fresco is a fruit drink that is made of various types of fruit, depending on what’s in season. I've had pineapple juice, orange and carrot (that combination is super popular), watermelon with other fruits, and a mixture of a bunch of different fruits. To make it, they squeeze out the fruit juice, add some sugar and water, and you’ve got your drink! Doña Matilde (the mother of the family I’m staying with) makes me fresco every morning for breakfast, and I often have it for lunch as well. She blends the fruit, but it’s still just like drinking a glass of juice, only much fresher.

Finally, there is a treat I have yet to try called quesillo. The women who sell it carry the ingredients in a plastic tub on their head and walk around shouting "quesillooooooooooo" with an extra elongated "o" on the end. Quesillo is kind of like a burrito - they take a corn tortilla and put a hunk of quesillo in it (a type of cheese), then add sour cream and pickled onions and put the whole thing into a plastic bag (since it would otherwise leak out everywhere and cause a huge mess). As with the posicle, you then bite a hole into one corner and eat it through the hole. 

So, there you have a few Nicaraguan specialties! I'm sure I will discover more and will share them with you!


This post is thanks to a request from Kelly Manza's Spanish classes at Merton Williams Middle School. Thanks for the idea! Feel free to comment and ask for clarification or more detail about anything I missed!

First of all, Nicaraguan food is delicious. There’s not nearly as much variety as we’re used to in the United States, though, and a lot of it is quite heavy on the stomach. Meal times are pretty much the same as in the US – I eat breakfast at about 7:15 before going to school, then lunch is sometime between 12 and 1, and dinner is usually about 6pm. A lot of my students eat snacks at about 10am, and I’m told that teachers generally do as well, but I haven’t very often since I’m still so full from breakfast! 

It’s not uncommon to get something else to eat, often from the street, in the evening (or really at any point in the day!). The thing is, there’s a lot of easy access to food here since there are so many people walking around carrying food to sell, or pushing carts of food, or with food stands set up in front of their homes. Walking around presents you with infinite possibilities for picking up a little of this and a bit of that at pretty much any time of the day.

One of the most typical Nicaraguan foods is called gallo pinto, and we pretty much eat it breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Ok, maybe not for all three meals every day, but it’s not uncommon to have it twice a day. Gallo pinto is rice and beans cooked together – and if the rice and beans are cooked and served separately on your plate, it’s just rice and beans. The beans are different from what we’re used to, also – they’re red in color, and all Nicaraguans will tell you that they are MUCH better than the black beans we eat. One of the projects I did with my students was having them make menus in English when we learned food vocabulary, and one of the groups decided to split their menu into breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I found it very interesting to note what they listed for each meal, particularly that they listed “rice and beans” as the first choice for breakfast. I almost corrected them, then I remembered I’m in Nicaragua, not the US, and they were absolutely correct to list rice and beans as a breakfast choice!

In addition to the given rice and beans/gallo pinto, many meals come with homemade corn tortillas. Corn is another staple here, so you’d be hard pressed to find flour tortillas, but the corn ones are quite abundant! Some people make their own tortillas, while others buy them – but always buy hand-made tortillas. The thing is, some people have a side business of preparing some sort of food, and everyone in the community somehow just knows who prepares what. So, when you need a few tortillas or a bowl of beans for dinner, you just pop over to that person’s house, ask “hay tortillas” (are there tortillas) or “hay frijoles” (are there beans today?), then buy however much you need. I find it so fascinating! 

Martha told me that often, she will see if there’s anything in the fridge for dinner, and if not, or if there isn’t enough for the whole family, she will go over to this woman’s house to get some tortillas and beans if they’re available, or over to the pulperia (basically a convenience store found literally everywhere in Nicaragua) and see if they have eggs or mortadela (like a sausage or bologna type meat) and get whatever she needs to make dinner. It’s such a different way of life, and I’m really enjoying learning more about it! 

Another super common food here is called cuajada and is Nicaraguan cheese. They eat it every single day, though I haven't had it much because I'm not much of a cheese person. Cuajada is quite salty, but I do have to admit is better than American cheese. I don't think Nicaraguans would survive if there weren't cuajada. One of the women I know (she's one of the daughters of my host mom) has a son who loves cuajada so much that, in order to get him to eat, has him eat a bite of food, then a bite of cuajada.

We also eat a lot of meat here – and on a few occasions, I’ve had meat at both lunch and dinner. The meat is a lot fresher, though; often, I will see a cart with two bueyes (special cattle that we don’t have in the US), and Martha will tell me “van al matador” – they’re going to be butchered. There are tons of essentially free-range chickens here as well, and people either prepare their own chickens, or they go to a meat store that has live chickens there that are prepared for you. There isn’t a single supermarket in El Sauce (there are in big cities, but don’t even think about looking for one around here!), so people have to either prepare their own or go to the little specialty shops to get what they need. The most common types of meat are chicken and beef, and they are mostly prepared either fried or grilled. 

While ovens “exist” in Nicaragua, they are never used – I’m not even sure they work. You either cook on the stove part, or on an open flame that is kind of like a grill except bigger and runs on firewood. Martha actually told me a funny story from when she was in Rochester and enjoying a lovely fire with people from Ciudad Hermana – apparently, she asked what they were going to cook on the fire, and all of the Rochestarians laughed at the question, thinking she was joking. But really, it made absolutely no sense to her to have such a beautiful fire and NOT cook something. All of our meat here is cooked on the fire, so of course she would think that if they lit a fire, it was to prepare some food.

Luckily, in addition to all the rice and beans, meat, tortillas and more rice and beans, there is a lot of fresh fruit here – one of the benefits of living in a tropical climate where some sort of fruit and vegetable can grow at any given point in the year. Again, as there are no supermarkets to go pick up a bag of apples, people go to fruit and vegetable stands. On the stands, the fruit is sitting out on the table, and you ask how much it is then buy whatever you need – nothing comes prepackaged. It’s actually quite interesting, and you know it’s all fresh. If anyone has been to Nicaragua before, they know how delicious the fruit is – especially the pineapple! I could honestly eat it every day. Look for another post soon about the different types of fruits and vegetables – there are so many new ones that I’ve tried here, and they are absolutely delicious!!!

Nica Time Part 2

To continue from my previous post, another thing I have noticed about Nica time is their time for sleeping and waking. Now, if you know me, you know I go to sleep late. Really late. And that I don’t like to get up early. 

Well, believe it or not, I don’t need an alarm here, not even to wake up at 6am! The thing is, basically the entire town goes to bed at about 10:30 at night – everything ends earlier, and people just go to bed. It’s not like they all have the internet or videogames or whatever it is that eats up our evening hours. And it’s a good thing, too, because all of the two and four legged creatures wake up at about 5 or 5:30 and start clucking and cock-a-doddle-doing and barking! 

My first two to two and a half weeks here were right in the middle of the fiestas patronales in El Sauce, so it was even crazier in terms of noise. They have this thing called novenas, when people go to church up to three times a day. The first services starts at 5am, and before each service, they ring bells and set off bombas y cohetes (firecracker like things that make LOTS of noise). So during those two weeks, I was woken up starting at 4:30 when those wonderful bombas started going off. But the funny thing is, because I’ve gone to bed at 10:30, I’m not really annoyed by it. I get maybe another hour and a half of sleep, then I’m up and ready for the day, no alarm necessary! Well, actually that’s a lie. The animals serve as my alarm. But who’s counting anyway?!

Nica Time

If you know anyone who has been to pretty much any Central or South American country, you’ve probably heard about Latin American time. They’ll tell you “vamos ahorita” (we’re going right now)…and 2 hours later you’re wondering if they’re almost ready. Or they say the fiesta starts at 6, but people wouldn’t even think of arriving before 6:30 at the earliest. Well, it’s the same here in Nicaragua. And I have to confess that it’s actually really nice. I didn’t think I’d be saying that so soon into my experience here considering how ingrained the American go-go-go attitude is (though I do have to confess that I’m generally late by at least 5 minutes for everything…) And the funny thing is, some of the people from the 4 Walls group have even commented about how quickly I’ve adjusted to Nica time and how I seem so relaxed and just “go-with-the-flow”. Martha even mentioned to me that I've started walking slower (and I normally have the pace of a cheetah) and she's noticed that I seem to have become accustomed to Nica time - now she can maintain a comfortable conversation with me as we walk around doing mandados (errands)!

The thing is, the pace of life here is so much more relaxed. You don’t see people always in a hurry, constantly stressed out and letting life pass them by. Here, people take the time to talk with you, ask how you’re doing, and make you feel like you’re worth their time and not like they have an agenda to follow. It’s amazing how quickly the time slips by as you’re conversing with someone during a meal, or sitting out on the porch by the road in the evening, or walking down the street.  It’s so refreshing, and I think we “Americans” (though technically they’re Americans too!) have much to learn from them. I mean, seriously, why are we in such a hurry to get through life? We always say (and I include myself in this!) “oh, it’ll be great when I graduate from HS and can go to college”, or “college will be the best time of my life”, or “my life will be better when I get a job/married/have kids”…you get the idea. 

Here, people live in the moment. Now, I know it’s partly because of their life situation – living in a developing country essentially forces them to live for today, because that’s all many of them can feasibly think about. But really, it’s a beautiful thing to see people who are grateful for another day and excited to see what the new day brings. When you ask people what they’re going to do this weekend or at any point in the future, they always follow their response with “si Dios quiere”, and when you ask how they are or how their weekend was, they always tack “gracias a Dios” on to the end, which is another beautiful thing to me. It just seems like they are so much more aware of all of the blessings God gives us every day, and they are so thankful for what they have, even if it’s much less than what you or I might be “happy” with. It just gives you something to think about, no?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

4 Walls - work and fun!

As promised, here are some more fotos from the amazing 4 Walls group! They left yesterday to spend a day in Leon and a few days at the beach, and are definitely missed here in El Sauce! The families are incredibly grateful for the humble houses of which they are now owners. It definitely puts things into perspective and makes all this hard work the volunteers have contributed worthwhile. Bonnie received the most beautiful letter of thanks from Alejandra, the mother of the family. It put us all in tears!

Without further ado, here are the images!
 The whole group at one of our cenas. We even had musical entertainment! Traditional Nica music!
 Martha and Gabriela! So precious
 Sally and I! It was a pleasure to meet you and get to know you, amiga!
 Bonnie, Beth, Nancy, and Bill. Such a dynamic group!
 After dinner at the barbecue! We actually ate in the family's living room since it was so packed. Only in Nicaragua...
 The house Bonnie and Sally were working on. Such a beautiful view in the background!
 Sally and Alberto, the albañil working hard!
 Henry, the interpreter/guide for the 4 Walls group. Thumbs up for good work!
 Look how much is done! The house will have 4 walls, 2 windows, and a 2 doors to allow for air to flow.
 Mixing cement!
 Bonnie is a pro! If you look close, you can see the cement coming off the shovel.
 Passing the cement to fill in the middle column
 Alberto is an expert!
Tapping the wooden frame to be sure the cement gets all the way down.
Bonnie and Sally demonstrating how to sift out the rocks from the rest. Don´t worry, Bonnie is okay!

So as you can see, the group has worked very hard and enjoyed their time here in El Sauce!

Adios, Profe!

Lesson #1 on how to stick out as a gringo in El Sauce: say “hola” to people as you pass by them in the street. What?! That’s right, if you say “hola” everyone will immediately pin you as a foreigner (though the light skin and hair don’t really help in that department!) 

Now, this doesn’t mean that people ignore each other. On the contrary, actually. People are SO friendly here, but if you want to acknowledge and greet someone when you are just passing by, you say “Adios!” (though it comes out more like “adio” because they tend to chop the “s” off a lot). I guess it makes sense. I mean, if you’re going to say hello to someone, it’s like you’re starting a conversation…so to say hello but then keep going and chop the conversation seems a bit odd. 

Given that El Sauce is fairly small, pretty much everyone knows everybody else, so you are constantly hearing "Adios!" Now, one of my favorite things about walking around El Sauce is passing by one of my students and hearing “Adios profe!”

English Classes

During the month of January, I am blessed with the opportunity of giving English classes to primary students at a Catholic school here in El Sauce called San Luis Gonzaga. I have two sections of class, and we meet every Monday to Friday. The first class has about 23 students, and they are the younger class; the kids are entering 2nd through 4th or 5th grade this school year (side note: the Nicaraguan school year starts in February). The second class has 15 students currently (I started with 10 and keep getting new ones!), and these students are entering 4th grade through their first year of secondary school. This class is definitely more mature, and they’re a blast!

Each of the classes is two hours long, which makes planning very important! Imagine trying to keep 15-25 primary school children busy for 2 hours every day! I have to say, though, I absolutely love it! The students are precious and SO enthusiastic! I don’t really have a problem with participation; there are a few shy students who need to be encouraged to participate, but mostly I’m asking them to calm down and not all shout out answers at once! Not such a bad problem to have, right? And for all of you teachers reading this, Nicaraguan children also beg to play games every day!

In fact, a lot of the activities I plan are games/activities that focus on speaking or action. Why, you might ask? Well, I don’t really have a choice. The thing is, the only materials I have to work with are a whiteboard, a few markers that don’t always work (because it’s so hot and dry), and whatever I brought with me. (Kelci – those colored pencils have been used every single class. The kids love them!). That’s right, no copy machine, no textbooks (though they do have workbooks for their regular classes; this is just a special program we’re offering that I'm creating), no worksheets. Everything we do is activities I’ve done or used in classes in the past, or something from the top of my head that I think will get the kids to use English and hopefully get it to stick in their brains! It sure makes you get creative as a teacher!
The thing is, I actually like it this way. Yes, it is annoying to make the kids copy sentences down for homework when I want to give them something to practice, and yes the kids complain. But it really forces you to come up with activities that will get the students to use the language instead of just filling out worksheets. Additionally, I have to be very conscious of how much I have them write. I have to keep in mind that I have to write everything on the board, and they have to copy it all into their notebooks. Considering they're still elementary students, I don't want to give them pages and pages of notes! Plus, for all the vocabulary I give them, we have to write it in English and Spanish AND the pronunciation. Why? Because if I don't, they end up pronouncing cucumber as "coo-coom-bray", or grapes as "grah-pays". So in their notes, in addition to "cucumber", they write "kiu-cum-ber" and "greips", and the number 5 becomes "faiv". It's quite amusing!

Now, I’ve only taught them for a week and a half, so I can’t say for certain that they’re learning better this way, but I do know that getting them to communicate in real life is a huge benefit for them. Check back later and we’ll see how things are going…but for now, enjoy some pictures of my older class! We were making flashcards for fruits and vegetables, and I let them use their creative side to draw the fruit/vegetable to act as a visual aid for learning the new vocabulary!

 Lucy - one of my favorites (I know, I know, you're not supposed to have favorites, but she's precious!)
 Ashley (yup, a Nicaraguan child with my name! And she's also AMAZING!)
 Yelba America (very fashion forward, but also a good student)
 Tony and Jaime, with Diana in the background. Tony learns incredibly fast and is very accurate in his work.
 The two Ashley's! Sra. A - she joined our class a couple days late, and when she walked in, I could've sworn it was Analisa! She is definitely a favorite student. She's one of the youngest, yet so conscientious about her work and is such a hard worker! She's brilliant, too!